About 26 percent of Missourians live within a DHPSA, including residents of Marion County.

According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, 99 Missouri counties are Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (DHPSA), which means they don’t have enough dentists for their area. About 26 percent of Missourians live within a DHPSA, including residents of Marion County.

What does this shortage mean for you? For one, it may be more difficult to find a dentist in your area. Many people may not consider this shortage to be a problem. But, problems in your mouth can lead to problems with your health overall. According to the Mayo Clinic, oral health problems like gum disease have been linked to:

•Heart disease

•Stroke

•Diabetes and high blood sugar

•Higher chance of pneumonia

•Early birth and low birth weight for babies

•Higher chance of head and neck cancers

In 2013, Missouri residents made more than 57,000 visits to the emergency department for preventable, non-traumatic dental problems. The key word here is “preventable.”

Clarity Healthcare, has seen great success in providing basic dental care for children. Mark Conover, Vice-President of Healthcare Services at Clarity, said, “When we started a mobile dental clinic serving public schools in 2014, about 40 percent of children that providers saw had dental caries, or visible tooth decay. Now, the mobile clinic can sometimes leave schools without having to do any restorative work.”

This service is free and has seen improvement in children’s oral health.

Although the issues linked to oral health problems sound scary, there are steps you can take now to improve your oral health. The American Dental Association calls June Oral Health Month and shares steps you can take today to prevent oral health problems:

•Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste

•Floss your teeth everyday

•Replace your toothbrush at least every three to four months

•Avoid tobacco and e-cigarettes

•Schedule a dental check-up and cleaning every 6 months – this is especially important for kids and adults because it’s the best way to find early signs of oral health problems

As you take steps to improve your oral health, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is also working to improve oral health with a five-year action plan focused on oral health education, recruitment of dental and medical professionals, and increased access to dental services.

Questions about dental insurance? The MO HealthNet for Kids Program (Medicaid) and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provide children with dental care benefits. Learn more about dental insurance on the Health Insurance Marketplace at www.healthcare.gov or find free in-person help near you at https://findlocalhelp.covermissouri.org/.